Redefining Lager #BrewedAwakening
Back in the early days of North America’s modern brewing renaissance, in the 1970s and 80s, lager was a key player at some of the microbreweries, including in Canada, with Upper Canada and Brick in Ontario, and to a lesser extent with Hanshaus in New Brunswick, as they didn’t last that long…
I got into flavourful beer in 1985, and I was keen to try everything, and got pretty excited about German and Czech style pils, as well as Bockbier and the occasional amber, malty Oktoberfest/Maarzen styles. We grew up with big brewery Canadian lagers, diluted in flavour and texture due to the extensive use of corn in the mash, and hopped to very low levels compared to the European template.
These days I am left to wonder, as a drinker and a beer judge, what lager means to some of today’s new brewers. The only technical difference between a lager and ale is the yeast used that ferments more sugars and thus leaves the beer drier, although it is also standard practice for lagers to be fermented and aged colder, and aged longer (lagered) to remove any fruity esters and smooth out the beer. That said, there are also many ales that are cold aged, to the point where they taste more like lager than ale.
Either way, as trained BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judges, we frown on any fruitiness in a lager. That’s why it is aged, to REMOVE fruitiness.
When I taste some of the new lagers from our small breweries that are extremely fruity, I wonder what they were thinking. Sure, they might use a lager yeast, cold ferment, and cold age, but when they use West Coast or other New World hop varieties that are extremely fruity, what they end up with is a very dry beer that is very fruity. I don’t get it. Why would you spend extra money and labour/time to cold ferment and cold age and long age a beer that is dominated by fruity hops? Just use a highly attenuating (finishes very dry) ale yeast, save money and release it quicker.
While I am one of those beer lovers who prefers classic European styles over American style beers which lean very far in the hop direction, I am always open to experiments. I love trying new beers. I will try any style in small amounts – I’m not a snob. Also, I love pilsner, so I’ll try any new lager I see on the market.
I had an interaction with Trailway (from Fredericton, NB) on Twitter the other day about Yada Yada, their lager that is hopped with Topaz, an Aussie hop noted for clove and tropical lychee aromas and flavours. I was intrigued by the name of the beer (they explained it’s a Seinfeld reference) and I love crisp, hoppy lagers. However, Yada Yada isn’t even close to a pilsner. It’s a nice tasting beer, yes, clean and fresh, light bodied, but it has a strong fruity hop aroma and flavour. It also has a dry, somewhat bitter finish. But in no way does it seem like a lager to me. My assumption is they spent extra money and time to cold ferment and age this beer. Is it good? Yes, sure, it’s a clean, well made beer. Will it sell? No doubt, I think all their beers sell well. But does it benefit from being a lager? I don’t think so.
I’m not trying to shame Trailway. To be honest I was trying to help them avoid extra costs, as I know the industry doesn’t have huge margins. But they know their drinkers and their market better than any old beer writer.
They clearly intended to make a fruity lager, and succeeded.